21 January 2009

Wise Courage

Last night I sat in front of my computer for about three hours typing out an outline of an article for my Post-Modern American Literature class, (which, incidentally, involves reading four books by non-American writers. Go figure.) Our current project does involve an American author - we are reading The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien.

The article I was outlining discusses a re-definition of what makes a person courageous. "Courage," argues literary critic Carl Horner, "cannot be separated from wisdom, temperance, and justice." (See "Challenging the Law of Courage and Heroic Identification in Tim O'Brien's If I Die in a Combat Zone and The Things They Carried for more.) In other words, courage doesn't exist in a vacuum. It is influenced by our social constructs of how events should proceed, how courage should look as opposed to what it is, an intangible concept we've given a face to.

It's a division of virtue easily mistaken for something else - do people act out of self-sacrifice because they are afraid of looking afraid and really come off looking courageous, in spite of their mindless agression? Horner argues that most men aren't nearly afraid of death as they are of going home cowards, at least in a war setting. Ultimately, Horner conceeds to O'Brien's definition - "if we are not thinking, we are not human. If we are not thinking, by extension we are not brave in the human dimension. Proper courage is wise courage."

The word "courage" has come up several times in the last few weeks and months in emails and articles and books and whatever else I've read and listend to. One incident that stands out particularly strongly involves and email from a friend saying that going against the church on Proposition 8 is a courageous thing to do because it goes against the norm in Utah. To an extent he is right. It would, by dictionary definition, take a certain amount of courage to go against the masses on the issue - but is it the kind of courage that I want to have? What quality of courage do I want to obtain?

The reason I'm writing about this is, perhaps a bit predictable in light of the events yesterday. I watched the news along with everyone else that has a scrap of patriotism and respect for our country and celebrated the fact that our country has, at least for now, some hope for the future and a small scrap of dignity to cling to on the world scene. But something I saw bothered me. Images of the mass crowds of people in the Mall booing images of President Bush and cheering as his plane left Washington. These are, presumably, the same people who have been telling McCain supporters to suck it up and accept President Obama and give him respect as the choice of the nation.

I don't agree with everything President Bush did. I don't think he is a perfect man or a perfect leader. Nor do I think it is fair to blame everything on him, or to blame everything on Congress. But I do think he is a good man. The popular view of Bush being an illiterate unintelligent monkey who led our country down that dark path of recession and war due to his mindlessness drives me crazy. It is unfair and not true. Wherever the "blame" lies for all this, it isn't just on one man. It is on far too many things that are out of anyone's control.

So at this time of transition, I tip my virtual hat to President Bush for doing all he could in the last eight years to do what he could with what he is given. As my President, he deserves respect. As a good man and a human being, he deserves to maintain his dignity. It will be interesting to see what the next four(+) years bring to our country and whether or not the popular opinion of President Obama shifts at all.

01 January 2009

How many (almost) college graduates does it take to find a Starbucks?

This is the story of a girl on a mission.  Her small sister had not been dreaming of sugar plums over the yule-tide season, she had been dreaming of figure skates and graceful feats of athleticism  on a sheet of ice.  The loving mother of these two girls, being a kind hearted soul, decided to promise the smaller one that, at some point before she returned to school, the family would embark on an ice skating adventure of fun and joy.  
This would have been much more easily accomplished if everyone else was as excited about said adventure as the small one was.  Older brother managed to get out of it by flying home early.  The rest of the family seemed doomed to the journey, however begrudgingly. 
On the day of the trip, Mother, older sister, small sister and small sister's friend drove in one car with Father and (no longer that small) younger brother drove in the other car to meet at the indoor ice-arena at approximately 2:00 PM (1400 Hours.)  This plan went swimmingly (if a little late) until the female vehicle realized that the arena, which had been open for a similar trip the previous New Year was closed.  Mother and older sister were ready to go home.  Small sister and friend were very disappointed.  Small sister was close to tears until Mother decided to suggest an even colder idea: the outdoor ice arena down town!  Brilliant! cried the younger passengers.  Wonderful! Smashing!  Please, lets!
This is the part where the boys get out of the adventure in favor of watching bowl games.  Older sister begins to see the benefit of competitive sports.  
So older sister drove the car down town and eventually (an hour later) found said over-crowded very small ice arena playing loud rock music and containing a plethora of people including two Mennonite girls, teenaged boys and girls attempting to flirt, skating students attempting to skate, and men dragged in by their wives away from their respective bowl games wearing jackets and hats to support their teams instead.  
To compensate for the cold and the fact that older sister had only dressed for indoor skating, she decided to go in search of a Starbucks to buy a warm drink of the chocolate variety.  Surely there would be one!  Or three!  Or twelve!  Within four city blocks alone!  It could not be so very difficult!

Older sister drove up and down a plethora of city streets in an attempt to find Starbucks.  Mother had told her that there was one near where her father worked but she could not see it.  She determined that either 1) she needed glasses; 2) she needed to be a wizard to see it; or 3) Mother was crazy.  After driving around without success down nearly every street in the down town area that seemed remotely safe, older sister decided to go to another coffee place a little farther away.  Other coffee place had, as she recalled, a nice variety of sandwiches and quiches and other snacks as well, since she had not eaten her noon meal yet.  This pleasant thought in mind, older sister found that the delightful coffee shop that had held all her hopes and dreams was closed.  Not just for today, but for every day.  Hopes and dreams were shattered.  There was (very nearly) weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. 
Older sister decided that she was tired of driving around and that she should stop wasting gas in Mother's car.  As she was driving back, through the hazy waves of the hot drink-free desert, an oasis was seen on the corner - a Starbucks!  At last!  Older sister had found some luck!  She parked by a meter and went in.  There was no line.  She ordered one grande and one tall beverage for herself and for her mother.  The cashier said "Mayhaps may I interest you in something else?"  Older sister wished she had interest in another drink simply because he used the word "mayhaps".  Roughly $6.37 later, older sister is back in the car and on her way back to the outdoor ice block.  Things are looking up.  Especially when small sister's friend announces that her feet hurt and she is almost ready to go.  

Thank you, Starbucks.  Thank you.